Thingamuhjig, the protagonist of drummer Jeff Bowders’ new concept album “The Pilgrimage of Thingamuhjig,” finds himself on the same temptation-strewn path first mapped out by John Bunyan in the 1678 classic “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Unlike the journey of Bunyan’s hero Christian, however, Thingamuhjig’s quest for ultimate truth is accompanied by a fiercely melodic and rhythmically explosive soundtrack, one centered around Bowders’ head-spinning drumming and the solo contributions of some true guitar heroes.
“Thingamuhjig’s quest is a sincere search for truth that I feel most people contemplate at some point in their lives,” Bowders says. “Thingamuhjig represents the individual who wants to know and understand their purpose in life and to live a life at its highest and most honorable level, regardless of what the consequences may be.”
This is the first solo effort from Bowders, whose nimble footwork and pounding progressive grooves have powered Mr. Big/Racer X guitarist Paul Gilbert through three albums and numerous world tours.
Bowders says that the all-instrumental format of the album allows him to pay homage to many early influences. “Ever since I heard Tony Macalpine’s ‘Maximum Security’ album I’ve been addicted to rock instrumental music.” he says. “Then I heard Gregg Bissonnette’s first solo album, which really displayed how dynamic and effective the drum performances can be to the overall song; it just planted the seed to one day do one of my own.”
As for the vocal-free content of the album, Bowders says his intentions are two-fold. “Without lyrics, I could let the listener take some ownership of the album and let them mold the experience into something very individualized,” he says. “Second, I think instrumental music can offer more opportunities to stretch out musically and atmospherically. Sometimes lyrics and vocals can be a bit limiting, while instrumental music can be more diverse while still maintaining a commonality that won’t confuse the listener.”
Using the time-honored notion of the concept album also allows Bowders to pay tribute to other influences, including literary luminary C.S. Lewis and the legendary concept albums of the past few decades.
“Being a fan of concept albums, especially ones that have a deeper meaning or purpose, I wanted to bring the conceptual story element into it as well,” he says. “Helping people look deeper into themselves and encouraging them to question why they believe certain ‘truths’ will, I feel, help direct them to living a more fulfilling life. I just didn’t want another drummer’s album – I wanted it to have a purpose.”
The overall narrative follows Thingamuhjig’s journey through a world of temptation and confusion in a quest for ultimate spiritual enlightenment. Accompanied by his erstwhile canine companion Alpha Dog, Thingamuhjig braves the tempest-tossed Jocean, confronts the moral and spiritual dangers of the Land of Volition, and ultimately faces his own inner demons while striving for his goal. Just as Bunyan’s hero had to survive both the Slough of Despond and the questionable advice of Mr. Worldly Wiseman in order to reach the Celestial City, so too must Thingamuhjig keep a firm grip on his integrity, his resolve – and indeed, his very soul – as he seeks absolute truth.
The various stages of the journey incorporate a wide array of musical moods and textures, from the frantic drum-and-guitar maelstrom of “Jocean/The Arrival” to the crunchy metallic swagger of “Alpha Dog” to the invigorating “Relentless Resolve.” Highly musical percussive interludes crop up here and there, allowing Bowders to display the chops and creativity that have made him the go-to guy, either live or in the studio, for artists as diverse as Gilbert, best-selling Christian artist Rebecca St. James, and multiplatinum selling hard rock band Puddle of Mudd.
Aiding Bowders along the way are several world-class guitarists, each of whom imprints his own sonic signature on Thingamuhjig’s journey.
“I had a pretty vivid idea of how the songs were going to turn out,” he says. “The road map was there, but I wanted each artist to put their own stamp on it.”
Gilbert, currently touring with a reunited Mr. Big, adds his fretboard pyrotechnics to the opening track, “Crucible of Consciousness,” as well as the moody “Darko’s Descent.” Legendary Shrapnel shredder Greg Howe solos on “Alpha Dog,” and Grammy-winning guitarist Larry Mitchell unleashes a melodic lead to “Nothing Creates Nothing.” Musician’s Institute guitar guru Greg Harrison contributes some jaw-dropping licks to “Jocean/The Arrival,” and Richie Kotzen, whose body of work includes numerous wellreceived solo efforts as well as a stint with hair metal mavens Poison, soars through the contemplative “250 College Drive.”
Bowders says, “The great thing about working with world-class musicians is that they don’t need a lot of direction; they just get it.. Everybody played way beyond my expectations and made such amazing contributions. I am beyond thankful and blessed to have had the opportunity to work with all of them.”
The remaining guitar works comes courtesy of long-time comrade Michael Elsner. Bowders played on Elsner’s “Stained Voodoo” album, and has worked with the guitarist on many other ventures over the past decade.
“I couldn’t have done this album without Michael,” he says. “We’ve worked on so many projects that we communicate really well, and he has a remarkable ear for whatever ridiculous rhythm or guitar riff I’m hearing in my head which I attempt to sing to him – out of key, of course.”
Bowders says Elsner helped elevate the various songs to a point where they can be enjoyed by a much wider listening audience instead of just the shred-heads and shedkings who normally salivate over such musical fare. “Mike is an amazing songwriter, and he made the songs more palatable to an audience beyond the drummer/muso world,” he says. “I had all the rhythms and riffs, but Michael brought a lot of the melodies and ear candy that just made it so much more listenable. I’m very blessed to have him as a musical cohort.”
Providing rhythmic support are bassists Craig Martini, Michael Dwyer, David Filice, and Philip Bynoe, with multi-instrumentalist David Das helping with the orchestration on “Jocean/The Arrival” and the expansive “Nothing Creates Nothing.”
Additional artistic inspiration came from artist Jarrod Schneider, the man responsible for the album’s captivating artwork. While coming up with the concept for the album, Bowders knew he needed to find art that would mesh closely with his musical vision. “I’ve been personally inspired by the artwork of so many albms, and I wanted ‘The Pilgrimage’ to have the same effect,” he says. “Jarrod is one of the most amazing artists I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He was able to see and understand the concept in the early stages of the project and created a masterpiece that visually resonates perfectly with ‘Thingamuhjig’. Music and art can be such a powerful force when they come together; and I think this is a wonderful example of it.”
As the last song draws to its close, Thingamuhjig finds himself with a heightened resolve and a new-found sense of hope and optimism. But as part of his spiritual and personal growth, he also realizes that the quest is not yet complete. As such, we may not have seen the last of Thingamuhjig and Alpha Dog.
“The journey has just begun,” Bowders promises. “I’m already sketching out the next adventure.”
Available through various digital outlets, as well as through online retailers such as Digstation.com, iTunes, and Cdbaby.com, “The Pilgrimage of Thingamuhjig” represents a bold new take on the concept album, and provides enough musical gymnastics to keep musicians the world over inspired for years to come. But as the album matured, Bowders saw what started out as his answer to his favorite drummer’s solo albums transforming into something whose appeal extends far beyond the drum riser. He hopes that the questions raised during Thingamuhjig’s journey will resonate with musicians and nonmusicians alike long after the last ringing cymbal crash and power chord have faded.
“Initially I wanted this album to inspire people musically, and to contribute something to the drumming community,” Bowders says. “But through the process it became more evident that I really wanted it to motivate people intellectually and spiritually as well, to seek out what the absolute truth is, regardless of how difficult of emotionally challenging the journey may be.”
For more information on Bowders and “The Pilgrimage of Thingamuhjig,” visit jeffbowders.com.
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